Chicago has a density of restaurants that often surprises me, even in areas that I don’t think of as “restaurant” zones. Andersonville has always had some excellent spots, but recently it seems that there has been an explosion of better and better restaurants in that neighborhood, particularly along the Clark Street corridor between Foster and Bryn Mawr. Among the excellent venues are three that are all owned by the same family: Acre, Bar Ombra, and Anteprima.
Recently, I was invited to attend a progressive dinner at these three spots. Afterwards, it occurred to me that the concept of a progressive dinner is one that should be explored more often in Chicago. If that idea intrigues you, then you may wish to start with this trio in Andersonville.
We began our culinary adventure with drinks and appetizers in Acre at 5308 North Clark Street. Opened in 2012, Acre is laughingly called the “American cousin” to adjacent Bar Ombra and Anteprima. The food is focused on “farm-to-table” but with a contemporary, urban, American feel. First, you must go if only to view the massive, beautiful carved bar. Next, check out Acre’s extensive menu and you will certainly be impressed. Acre has a wonderful list on their website with links to all of their artisan purveyors of food and beverage. Not only can you be assured that the quality of food and beverage is high, but you can also link directly to the websites of the companies who provide those products, learning a great deal more about the world of "farm-to-table."
If you’re sampling the progressive dinner concept, start out as we did at Acre with some of their oysters. They have one of the finest (if small) oyster bars in the city. They also have an extensive charcuterie and cheese selection. Grab a drink here, try an oyster shooter, and sample a few artisan meats and cheeses. After that, head towards the back of the bar, turn right, and you will be in an entirely different environment for part two of your progressive dinner.
Bar Ombra is connected to Acre, but the two are vastly different in style and cuisine. Ombra has a funky, re-purposed and eclectic décor. The booths are backed with recycled leather jackets, the woodwork was salvaged from an old gymnasium, and the footrests in the booths were once part of an old hospital. One of the focal points of the restaurant is the 4000 pound wood-burning oven that turns out some of the best pizza in Andersonville. Their menu is relatively small, but has great variety.
Another highlight is the bar area which (during nice weather) opens up onto the sidewalk with a series of barstools outside but looking into the bar. If you’re lucky when you visit, the talented mixologist Meridith will be behind the bar. Be sure to ask for her signature Eva D’Bronte cocktail which contains (among many other tasty ingredients) both Cynar and Pistachio Liqueur.
We sampled several of their artisan pizzas as well as the tasty Beef & Pork Meatballs. Of the pizzas, one of the standouts was the Carbornara served with pancetta, roasted garlic, farm egg, black pepper, mozzarella, and pecorino Romano. The pepper was zingy and the addition of the egg was genius.
Once you are done with phase two of your progressive dinner, head two doors north to the final stop at Anteprima. According to Anteprima’s website:
We serve honest-to-goodness, Italian home-style cooking, skillfully prepared with respect for the finest ingredients we can search out. The menu changes often, based on what’s best in the market. Our bias is toward local and organic producers.
The food is simple in preparation, but delightfully fresh and well-prepared. The chef laughingly told us that the most important ingredient is the one you leave out. This focus on simplicity does not in any way undermine the quality and flavor. In fact, Anteprima has some of the finest, home-cooked Italian food in the city. Check out their current menu and you will see what I mean.
Don’t miss out on the Crisp Brick-Grilled Chicken, the Grilled Boar Sausage, and the Sliced New York Strip Steak. All of them are menu standouts and are well-worth a sampling. To conclude your progressive dinner, save a little room for Anteprima’s desserts. My favorites were the Lemon Panna Cotta and the Chocolate Hazelnut Torte.
The wine list is just extensive enough to offer options. Unlike most other restaurants of this quality in the city, Anteprima offers nearly every one of their wines by the glass as well as by the bottle. Take some time to enjoy small, unique varietals that you may not find anywhere else in the city by the glass.
Please comment here or drop me an email at Table41Tommy@yahoo.com with your suggestions about where to explore the fun of progressive dining in Chicago.
Acre is located at 5308 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640. They can be reached at 773-334-7600.
Ombra is located at 5310 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640. They can be reached at 773-506-8600. "Like" them on Facebook for more information.
Anteprima is located at 5316 N. Clark St., Chicago IL 60640. They can be reached at 773-506-9990.